I grew up in Long Beach surrounded by gang violence, substance abuse and mental health issues.
At my sister’s 10th birthday party, we were confined inside because there was a gang doing an initiation outside in the alley.
At 15, one of my close friends was shot on a Sunday afternoon. Another one of my friends passed away from overdosing on fentanyl.
Another friend was killed in front of his home. My brother’s best friend was murdered walking out of a liquor store, over mistaken identity.
I know a student who was homeless, and most nights, he would walk around the city until the school campus opened.
One thing that is clear to me is that as a community we are hurting. It is a different kind of hurt when you look at childhood photos and the people in them are no longer here. I love Long Beach; this is where I come from. But this city has also taken so much from me and the families around me that for a long time I did not know what to do.
It took me five years to transfer from LBCC to Cal State Long Beach. It was hard because I did not know what I did to deserve my life or even the opportunities I had been given. I isolated myself from everyone I loved and cared about.
I was angry at what the world had taken from me and my community. I was angry at what the world did not offer me and my community. I was angry because I knew that the community that we made together was created out of our need for survival and I hated it. We were not expected to thrive like other people. Just surviving was good enough.
As I go to classes, I often think about how people like me do not go here. There might be Long Beach students here, but the majority do not know what I have gone through. The handful of people from my community that I do know at this school, of course, major in community-centered fields. I think to myself how lucky I am to be here and how I must finish to prove to everyone that someone with my background can make something of herself.
In April of 2022, I got an email regarding a paid internship opportunity to do something within the local community with College Corps. I want to be a lawyer that helps with crime, juvenile reform, and policy and I was unaware of how competitive law school is.
I knew that my resume and academic record were weak and an internship in my community would be perfect. I would be able to learn about what the community needs while making lifelong connections and honestly a reference for law school.
I was lucky enough to be chosen by the Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion (LBCEI). I started working at LBCEI in September and I can honestly say that it has changed my world. This organization operates on the needs of the community, and I learned that very fast.
Emily Kazim, my supervisor, and Jeff Williams, then-executive director of LBCEI (now the director of Community Engagement in Mayor Richardson’s office) are the most amazing and caring people.
I’m not treated like a student intern who is just here to complete her hours. I’m treated like an equal and my opinion is taken into consideration with everything we do.
I have had the perfect balance of the fun, community-facing side of things with community events and pantry work, but also administrative work that is equally important, although it may not be as fun. Emily talks positively about me in rooms that I am not even in, and where I come from, that speaks volumes.